Loving your natural hair is a learning experience.
Your entire life you are exposed to images of hair that shape and transform your perspective of the person you see when you look in the mirror.
That person – you should be happy with her.
You should love her fully, from her crown to her heels.
But sometimes it is hard to do so.
Because a voice in your head constantly reminds you that your hair does not look like the girl on TV. Your curls will never be as defined. As loose. As beautiful.
With the expansion of media, especially social media, where companies – like Shea Moisture and Carol’s Daughter – can now reach a broader audience, compromises are being made out of respect for marketing strategies. For brands like this, losing focus on its core consumers has now resulted in an emotional gamble as members in the natural hair community have had to reevaluate staples in their hair care regimen.
Texture discrimination, or the unjustified exclusion of certain hair types from the forefront of branding, encompasses a myriad of questions concerning natural hair. It is rooted in a fusion of issues, such as colorism, racism, self-comparison, and media-induced insecurities. Although there are layers to be peeled back when taking a stance on how the media reinforces the exclusion of particular hair types, it is always up to us as a community to stick together.
Division Within Our Community
In June, a woman by the name of Tiffany Buttafly posted this message on facebook, which has since been deleted, accompanied by a picture of two lighter skinned girls with long, defined, voluminous, curly locks:
More black women are creating platforms through which they can share their own natural hair journey while also being constantly exposed to the journey of others. Given this, we are now more aware of all hair types – not just our own. And we can now put two and two together between hair types that are more socially accepted and how this discrimination is reflected through media, thus resulting in feelings of exclusion harbored by women who are not being represented at all.
Anytime a system of classification is used to recognize and understand the difference between various hair types, self-comparison will always lurk within our community. Not only do we classify hair types, but we associate a level of struggle, and sometimes Blackness, with them. The closer someone is to type 4 hair, the more struggle they face with their hair while the farther away someone is to this hair type, the less struggle they face. So why are women who struggle less being chosen to speak for the women who struggle the most? Especially when women with kinkier hair textures were the pioneers of the natural hair movement in more ways than none.
This is a gist of what Buttafly was attempting to convey in her message, however, the message was lost in her anger. She instead reinforced a divide between herself and the sisters that aren’t dark enough, aren’t kinky enough, aren’t Black, or African, enough. Buttafly’s message is a clear indication of the internalized prejudices we sometimes enact against ourselves, but deflect as problems created by other people, because the media has made it difficult to pinpoint where our insecurities come from.
We should always remain alert as to where we stand on the line. We must remind ourselves that we walk the line together.
Loving Ourselves So We Can Love Each Other
The way we address texture discrimination through our platforms should be intentional instead of accusatory. A YouTube based organization called LAMBB, or Look At My Black Beauty, is a good example of how we can use our platforms “for black girls to commune and feel safe away from a society that constantly condemns us.” Earlier this month, LAMBB published a documentary on texture discrimination in which they showcase women with a variety of kinky hair types who share their thoughts on issues like: the over-representation of racially ambiguous women within marketing; the comparison of Blue Ivy’s hair to that of North West; the effectiveness of products that are usually advertised for looser hair types; and the importance of hair typing.
This documentary is one of the few videos to discuss texture discrimination without condemning other women for their apparent or perceived privileges. It sheds light on the nuances intertwined across black women’s individual hair journeys and how good hair is a socially constructed ideal that should be replaced with the concept of healthy hair.
Taking Steps Toward Conscious Discourse
How we talk to and about one another on natural hair sets the stage for how future generations will engage with other women and men on hair, how they will come to love their hair. The marketing industry will continue to use our insecurities as a basis for its commercials, billboards, and magazines. When companies like Shea Moisture choose to exclude us from the forefront for the sake of money (expansion), we must come together – not divide ourselves – and use our voice.
Below are a few steps we can take to approach the topic of texture discrimination from a stance of love rather than a stance of anger, hate, or envy. These steps will allow us to dig deeper into our understanding of natural hair and what it means to the ENTIRE black community without overshadowing the truths of prejudices or privileges many black women face.
Always come from a place of love. Love for ourselves and love for our sisters, regardless of how easy or hard we think their natural hair journey has been.
Do your best to avoid making assumptions. Obviously that are some things about natural hair that cannot be denied, like the level of challenge many of us will face in finding a regimen that brings our hair to life. Still, learning to love our hair is more emotional than it is physical; how that process plays out for one woman will never be equal in difficulty for another.
Ask questions. No matter how much you think you know about another person’s hair, you will never be them – so how can you actually know? Inquire about another woman’s hair journey, or struggle, before you assume that because her hair is kinkier, she must have been teased growing up. Or because her hair is looser, she must have been praised in her home.
Put yourself at the center of your argument. Believe it or not, not every black woman feels the same as you do on texture discrimination while others will have no stance on the topic at all. So in some cases, saying “I” instead of “we” holds you accountable for how YOU feel rather than how you think WE all feel.
Remember why you started your natural hair journey. Your journey is YOUR journey – never forget that.
What you see on social media, in magazines, on television, is a compelling distortion of reality. Real life experiences cannot be replicated in true form. Social media has become both a way for black women to find each other as well as for companies to find more consumers. Yes, the brands that have served us since the early 1900’s are expected to remain loyal to its core buyers. But no, this does not mean that they always will.
It is up to us as a community to use our resources, whether it be money, YouTube, Instagram, or education to make our voices louder than the brands who seem to hide our truths. And in the process of doing so, we cannot let their misrepresentation of us drive us apart.
Ariel is a writer, lover, and certified personal trainer. With a passion for helping others improve their quality of life, she uses her knowledge and writing to connect with other women (and men) looking to change their lives. If you’re in need of inspiration on love, strength, or confidence, check out her blog, The Freewoman Diaries or her YouTube Channel here. For personal training inquiries or life advice, send her an email: freewomandiaries AT gmail DOT com.